The US Navy says Iranian naval forces have seized a Panamanian-flagged oil tanker in the Persian Gulf, the second-such seizure by the Islamic Republic in less than a week.
The Bahrain-based 5th Fleet said the Niovi was passing through the strategic Strait of Hormuz on May 3 when boats of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Navy (IRGCN) forced the tanker to “reverse course and head toward Iranian territorial waters off the coast of Bandar Abbas, Iran.”
The US Navy published surveillance footage shot by an aerial drone of about dozen Guard vessels swarming the tanker.
🎥 فیلم سنتکام از توقیف #نفتکش با پرچم پاناما توسط #سپاه pic.twitter.com/vI5mhzevWr— هممیهن (@Hammihanonline) May 3, 2023
Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency acknowledged the Revolutionary Guards seized the vessel, but offered no motive.
According to the data firm Refinitiv, the Niovi had been coming from repairs in Dubai, bound for Fujairah on the eastern coast of the United Arab Emirates without carrying any cargo.
The incident is the latest escalation in a series of seizures or attacks on commercial vessels in Persian Gulf waters since 2019.
The IRGCN seized a Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman on April 27. The Advantage Sweet is being held by Iranian authorities in Bandar Abbas, the Marshall Islands flag registry said this week.
Iran has accused the Advantage Sweet of colliding with another vessel, while offering no evidence to support its claim. Reports suggest that the Iranian move was in response to a recent seizure via a court order by the United States of an oil cargo aboard the Marshall Islands tanker Suez Rajan.
“Iran’s actions are contrary to international law and disruptive to regional security and stability,” the 5th Fleet said in its statement.
“Iran’s continued harassment of vessels and interference with navigational rights in regional waters are unwarranted, irresponsible and a present threat to maritime security and the global economy.”